"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Matka Gorge Hike - October 2022 - Macedonia


My trip to Macedonia was for some meditation concerts set up by the Skopje Sri Chinmoy Centre, but with our concert behind us (it took place on the friday night) we had Saturday afternoon free and I nabbed a lift along with 2 carloads of guys to the Matka Canyon. Sakshama was leading our hike, as he lives locally and knows this area like the back of his hand from hiking, running and climbing, so once we had walked (with some pretty decent crowds, as it was a sunny weekend) up the canyon for a few minutes he presented us with a few choices. The one we went for was to take a ferry across the river to the other shore, climb a steep hillside up to a ruined monastery and then hike back to our starting point via a bridge further downstream. 

As you can see were a pretty international bunch - German, Austrian, British, Macedonian, etc etc...

Our ferryman was a young kid who steered from the helm with an outboard motor and got us pretty close to the other shore for 50 dinars - there was a bit of a jump on to the bank from the boat, or a step down on to a rock then a pull up from those already ashore. Once on dry land we had a sunlit hillside ahead of us with a steeply winding path leading us up between 2 spurs to the monastery of St Nicholas, that we had seen in the distance but which was now obcured by the trees.

I lost track of time so I'm not sure how long we took to get up to the monastery, but the climb was more than worth the effort as incredible views over the canyon and the mountains opened up. We nipped inside the church to see the incredible painting which apparently dates from around 1630 - nobody is quite sure how old thet building is. It still has the feeling of a living church, as so many of the ancient orthodox sites do, so we found ourselves meditating in there for a minute or two before Sakshama came up with the next part of his plan. Those of us not scared of heights and relatively nimble were invited to join him for a scramble. Karteek said "Garga will be up for it" so without hesitation I handed him my phone and my bag and joined the others for the so-called scramble.


The scramble is kind of visible on this picture below - it's the dark gulley running diagonally up and slightly to the left above the trees that eventually winds round to the right and takes you to the top of the left hand pinnacle, which is actually a short ridge, but seen end-on. Passing the torn Macedonian flag and heading over a style we were soon looking for handholds and footholds to tackle the steep slope. There was a rock face to our right with reassuring holds, but the route sticking to that side of the gulley was blocked by small bushes growing out of the rock and so Sakshama was encouraging us to take the left hand side, despite the exposure. He's a climber and takes that exposure in his stride, but the rest of us were hesitant with the big drop so close and so we made slow and cautious progress up the slope.

Near the top, I felt I'd had enough of the unfamiliar exposure and said I'd wait for the others and join them on the way down, then I spotted a climber's bold in the rock face that gave me a secure hold and I managed to get right up to the ridge - goal attained! The view was amazing - I didn't have my phone so I couldn't take any shots, so I just sat clinging to a rock (staying very still) and soaked up the view. Sakshama offered me a non-alcoholic beer and I took a few sips before seeing it was 0.5% rather than 0.05 - I'm very sensitive to even that tiny level of alcohol that others don't even notice (I discovered that on our trip to Munich) so I didn't finish it - I was acutely aware I needed every ounce of concentration for the more difficult return down the gulley. I was very aware of my mortality all the time I was conscious of that precipice close by - part of me was thinking "your life got extended by a miracle almost exactly 10 years ago, what if your destiny is only to have that ten years and this is where it ends?", but there was no feeling of solid fear, just a cold, calm sense of the need to be cautious and concentrate on every inch of progress on the way up and down.

The descent was slow and challenging but one by one, with Sakshama guiding us to each hand and foot hold, we edged our way down and arrived back at the monsastery. Only once did the rock come away in my hand as I tested a hold, but that was enough to make me take it very slowly and with my deepest concentration. My feeling was one of satisfaction that I'd given it a go (despite having little experience of climbing or scrambling) and manage to get up and down without freezing.


This second shot shows you the steepness of the gulley - very noticeable on the way down!

After that unexpected little adventure we hiked along a ridge from the monastery and down a path that contoured along the right bank of the canyon, high up above the river and gradually winding its way back towards the cars at the foot of the gorge. By now my quads were protesting, mostly because of the 5k race that morning as well as the scramble and the climb, but the gentle descent was no trouble and the views were incredible.

This shot of the sun dipping behind the mountains alongside the gorge was my favourite view of the day - perhaps those at the top of the scramble were even more dramatic but I was so focussed on the challenge of the scramble and the need to not put a foot/hand wrong on the way up or down, that I didn't really register the grandeur of the scene up there. On the easy path down there was time to really drink it in.

Sacred Steps Home